On June 20, 1855 six men signed a note to purchase property in Sandusky, Ohio. In a few short months, St. Mary’s Catholic Church was completed on that lot. The German immigrants of the city, who had been worshiping at Holy Angels, succeeded in founding the second Catholic parish in Sandusky. Since that day, two church buildings, five school buildings, two cemeteries, two rectories, and two convents have been built. In addition, several thousand parishioners have been baptized and buried. Countless children have been educated. Untold numbers of people assisted with clothes, food, money, support and prayers.
The Germans who immigrated to Sandusky were first led by Fr. John P. Dolweck. Appointed by Rt. Rev. Louis Amadeus Rappe, Bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland, Fr. Dolweck began serving the people of Sandusky in 1853, while still at Holy Angels. Fr. Dolweck was succeeded by Fr. James J. Hamene, who completed construction of the first Church and a rectory. In 1857 St. Mary’s built their first school.
Several pastors served at St. Mary’s during the Civil War era, each contributing to the growth of the parish and school.
In 1873, under the direction of Fr. Nicholas Moes, the parish embarked upon a huge construction project, a new church. Noted architect Franz Georg Himpler was employed to plan and oversee the construction. Seven years later, the beautiful new church was dedicated by Bishop Ignatius Horstmann to Mary, Mother of Sorrows. The largest church in the city of Sandusky, this building continues to serve as a home for all parish activities and the center of faith.
In 1918, Fr. Joseph S. Widmann, who served St. Mary’s his entire 26 year priestly career, died. Fr. Widmann was responsible for building the three story school still in use. He was also pastor when the new Diocese of Toledo was erected.
Fr. William C. Zierolf succeeded Fr. Widmann and began his 34 year pastorate. Under Msgr. Zierolf, St. Mary’s continued to grow and develop, keeping up with the times and leading the Christian contingent in the city. Msgr. Zierolf inaugurated the four-year secondary education program at St. Mary’s and stayed with the parish when transfer to the Toledo Diocese was completed in 1922. He also purchased land for Calvary Cemetery and added classrooms to the school.
Msgr. Joseph H. Inkrott followed Msgr. Zierolf and served St. Mary’s for fourteen years. During this time, the parish celebrated their centennial in 1955 with a major renovation of the church and a new elementary school was built in 1957.
Fr. Robert Donnelly assumed pastorate duties as the nineteenth pastor in 1974. St. Mary’s High School had been centralized with the other two Sandusky parishes. Fr. Donnelly instituted Christ Renews His Parish for spiritual growth of the parish. Also under Fr. Donnelly, sacrificial giving was adopted, and additions to the elementary school were completed.
Fr. Robert Reinhart was appointed pastor in 1981 and served until 1991. Under his direction, the church was renovated and the Commons building was added. Since 1991, Fr. Philip S. Feltman has been the pastor. Fr. Feltman has been instrumental in major additions and renovations to the parish: mausoleum and chapel at the cemetery, reviving Christ Renews His Parish, renovation of the rectory, stained glass window project, renovation of the church interior, maintenance of the church exterior, consolidation of Catholic education in the city, purchase and installation of a new organ for the church, year long celebration of the 150th anniversary of the parish, air conditioning the church, new baptistery.
In addition to the physical projects and improvements in St. Mary’s parish in 152 years, we have contributed to the Catholic presence in the city and the Diocese. Eighteen men from the parish have accepted the vows of Holy Orders. Seventy-one women have professed to religious communities. Twenty-one pastors and seventy-four associate pastors have guided and directed the growth, conformity to and understanding of our Catholic Faith. More than 20,000 baptisms have been commemorated, 7,000 weddings consecrated and 9,000 funerals celebrated at St. Mary’s. We continue to renew hearts and homes as we are called to action through Jesus’ love for us and our love for Him.
(St. Mary’s History written by 150th Anniversary Book Committee)